Blind Student’s Guide Dog Challenged

A student in a culinary program at Fresno City College is fighting for the right to bring her service dog to class.

Alexis Rivas, who is blind, is facing concerns from her professor about whether her seeing-eye dog, Odette, will be allowed to continue coming to her culinary class.

Rivas says she noticed within her first week in the class that the instructor had a problem with her service dog.

She said that she got into a discussion with the instructor who told her that the service dog was not allowed in the kitchen.

Rivas says she has attended Fresno City College since 2007 and has never had any issues with her dog’s access to class.

“If this was my kitchen, that [service dog] would not be in here,” Rivas said the instructor told her.  After the conversation, the instructor complained to Don Lopez, interim vice president for instruction.

The culinary instructor was unavailable to comment on this story.  Rivas says the instructor does not want the dog in the classroom because of concerns of shedding hair, but Rivas maintains that Odette is very well-behaved and stays where she’s told; usually in a corner.

Rivas says that no one has told her personally that the dog was not allowed in the classroom, but she is aware people have been having backdoor conversations on the matter.

“I’m just hearing it from everyone else that she’s not permitted in the classroom, and they seem to not be telling me anything,” Rivas said. “They want her out; they communicated with legal representation from the school and they say, ‘yeah that dog needs to be out of there [Class],’ but no one had said anything to me.”

Rivas was scheduled to meet with Lopez on Sept. 22, along with Leslie Silva, her DSPS counselor.  Silva met with Lopez and  Peg Mericle, dean of Social Sciences, to discuss alternatives.

“The law states that an animal cannot be kicked out of a kitchen,”  Silva said. “The only place a service animal can be restricted is a sterile environment, such as an operating room.”

 Silva also said that they were trying to work out options so Rivas can still attend class, but that ultimately, it would still be the student’s decision.

Silva talked about other options, including leaving the dog in the DSPS office during the culinary class but then explained that the dog acts an extension of Rivas, so they could not be separated.

“The [service] dog needs to be used. If they’re not used, they kind of get not-as-sharp,” Silva said. “So, it’s always best to use the dog.”

Silva states that DSPS has presented the board a policy allowing any service animal access to all district facilities and courses but has not heard anything from them.

Rivas has been in contact with the disability rights office to update them on the issue.

She said she needs her dog in order to get to her classes safely and that Odette helps her keep her balance when she walks to class.

“ I would like to continue to bring my dog to class,” Rivas said. “She helps me travel to and from class safely.”